The governor has opposed a vaccine mandate from the very beginning, and he's using his stance to try to solve a problem -- the trooper shortage.
“To me, freedom is our ability to say no, including to a vaccine for religious, health, or personal reasons,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt.
The bridge academy is for officers with prior experience. Stitt said law enforcement officers who don’t want to get the COVID-19 vaccine are welcome in Oklahoma.
“If you’re a law enforcement officer who is tired of politicians not having your back, I want you here in Oklahoma where we support you,” he said.
OHP is expanding its recruitment efforts to officers around the nation. The first ever bridge academy is an accelerated 12 to 13-week program.
“Nationwide numbers for law enforcement, coming into this line of work, are way down. This really extends our hands out to other states to say, ‘come be a part of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and not necessarily start at the bottom with pay either,” said OHP Trooper Eric Foster.
Officers need to be CLEET certified, which means they have to pass a minimum of 25 hours of law enforcement training in Oklahoma.
Foster said many who are interested come from states with a vaccine requirement.
“I’m the director of recruiting, and my phone hasn’t stopped ringing. There are men and women all over the United States that love the idea of being in the state of Oklahoma,” he said.
Foster and the governor said there's more to the state than the lack of a vaccine mandate.
“Oklahoma has a low cost of living, a great quality of life. It’s the perfect place to raise a family,” said the governor.
The bridge academy starts in April. They have the funding to train up to 45 officers.